The First Days of Operation LAPIS, finale

Continued from Part 3

With the Lead Operatives assigned and their first TSTT immersion prompt underway, the LAPIS operatives left class on Thursday heading into uncharted waters. I had reasonably high expectations that most of them would at least be able to fumble their way through the first mission in which they encounter a Malus (a bad man) in the road ahead of them and are forced to answer his question: Quid nomen est tibi? (What is your name?). Now, the caveat here is that because they know that this man is a bad guy, they aren’t forced to reveal their ‘real’ names (i.e., the names of their Recentiī characters.) Instead they were free to choose any name they wanted to try and trick the Malus. What would they come up with? Here is the prompt in its entirety:

>Outskirts of Pompeii, Italy, 79CE< 
Your Recentius is standing, on a bright Italian summer day, near the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. Refer to the TSTT Navigation Device for geographic orientation.

There is a field nearby, with an olive tree in it.

Persona tua est in viā.
Malus est in viā.
Malus inquit, "Quid nomen est tibi?"

Prompt: Answer the ruffian; you are not required to tell him your actual nomen.

Before we talk about what the students were able to achieve with this prompt, let me first break down a few elements. First, you’ll notice that they have a clear setting and the TSTT provides a helpful navigation device built right in for the Operatives. They are able to view (via Google Maps) exactly where they are in relation to Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius. They also have a HUD layer which provides for them helpful information (as would a HUD in any game.) This HUD, ideally, would be opened in a second tab along side of the TSTT immersion prompt. Lastly, after the narrative itself, they have a clear and concise task for this mission.

Almost immediately after the school day ended I began to see new posts appearing in their individual team forums. Each of the five Recentii are controlled by a team of 4-5 operatives. They must first discuss and debate what their action will be and then a single person (the Lead Operative) posts in the official immersion thread. This discussion, and not the public post, is what is ‘graded’ for Latinity Points. Guidelines that they should follow are as follows:

  1. Try as hard as you can to use Latin. Broken Latin is absolutely acceptable (e.g. “Pono money meum in arca” [arca means "safe"] would be perfectly acceptable, if you should happen to forget that argentum means “money”), as is incorrect Latin (I would never e.g. tell you that you should have used a Future Less Vivid condition instead of the simple present one you used). 
  2. Try hard, also, to use the Latin we’re seeing in the Cambridge Latin Course stories. 
  3. Try to find out things about the story you’re in. The course is going to put you in situations conducive to discovering the information and developing the cultural skills that will satisfy course objectives. How you do that discovery and development is up to you. 

The operatives are also encouraged to cite the resources used for external support, especially websites and other tools at their disposal. Other than that, they are free to be as creative as they want to be in advancing the narrative in the way that they choose to do so. So what did these teams come up with on the first night?

The first group to start their discussion began by looking at the character sheet for their Recentius (Gaius Recentius Bellator). They saw that had a military background and was a soldier-type. Using that information, the first operative suggested that because he was a soldier, they should tell the Malus, “Mihi nomen est Maximus”, clearly influenced by the movie, Gladiator. The second member of their group continued with this line of thinking and took an extra step: he looked up their Recentius’ cognomen (Bellator) and realized that it actually means ‘warrior’. So he shared this information with his team and they continued discussing the merits of choosing a name that would at least be plausible to their character.

Another group spent time looking up important sounding Roman names and figuring out which one would be best suited for the situation. Yet another group flirted with the idea of telling the Malus, “Mihi nomen est Amicus” (friend) or “Clement” (kind-person) in order to try and get out of the situation peacefully. Yet another group discovered the little known Roman god Averruncus who is the one to invoke when trying to escape a harmful situation. They felt it would be fitting to tell the Malus that this was their name given the circumstances that their character was in.

In figuring out when and how to discuss this, one group set a time to all pop online at the same time so that they could quickly hammer out the details. Another group asked for me to enable the poll feature of the phpBB system so they could vote on their response democratically. By the end of the night, all of the Lead Operatives posted in the immersion thread in their attempt to tell the Malus an incorrect name. They soon found out in the start of prompt 1.1.b that he didn’t buy their fake names and thus the story continues. Now the operatives have to save the boy in the tree that the Malus is after. What could this bad man want with just a helpless boy?

So just to recap what the student’s achieved after only the fourth class meeting:
  1. Created a Gmail/Google Account 
  2. Learned how to navigate and use Google Docs 
  3. Registered for and posted in a collaborative online forum 
  4. Took part in an on-going role playing exercise as a Roman in order to gain better understanding of the culture 
  5. Used Google Maps through the TSTT Navigation Device for geographic orientation 
  6. Translated Latin into English 
  7. Composed original Latin responses 
  8. Used unique vocabulary previously unknown 
  9. Looked up and cited online sources to aid their response 
  10. Decided collaboratively and democratically how to respond to the prompt 
  11. Came to class the next day feeling accomplished, excited and eager for more 
  12. Their teacher came to class the next day feeling accomplished, excited and eager for more 
This bears repeating: these are mostly freshman after only their fourth class meeting in a school of 2600 students. That’s what I would call real learning.

I’m looking forward to share their continuing mission to explore strange new provinces, seek out new cultures and new civilizations, to boldly go where no Latin class has gone before. Stay tuned for more and, as always, your thoughts are greatly appreciated!

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